Our first night aboard Alba Explorer in the Arctic Circle was a memorable one. The crew were very tired from a sleepless night at Oslo airport the night before so we decided to stay in harbour at Bodø and get an early night. A few brave souls went out for an after dinner stroll to explore the sights of downtown Bodø but even they were back aboard and in their beds by 21:00.
I woke up about 01:00 am and then struggled to get back to sleep as bright sunlight was shining through the hatch. Of course this far north in the Arctic Circle it doesn’t get dark! I hastily came up with a solution by rigging up a makeshift curtain with a pair of boxer shorts and some gaffer tape. 1st Mate Steve, in the bunk below, was none too pleased when the gaffer tape and a pair of pants landed on his face half way through the night. We’ve woken up to a gorgeous sunny day here in Bodo and are about to set sail for Reine in the Lofoten Islands about 60 miles away. From the photos in the pilot book it looks absolutely stunning. We can’t wait to see it in the flesh.
Saturday 19th July
We all woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and set sail by 08:00. As we motored out of Bodø we encountered a Viking ship under full sail in the channel. After greeting it with a series of Mexican waves they responded by two of the Vikings (one man and one woman) quickly stripping naked and diving in to the freezing Arctic Sea. Inspired by this demonstration of local hardiness, we hoisted the sails and began our passage to Reine in the Lofoten Islands. A 60 mile sail with the brightest Arctic sunshine, flat seas and a lovely north easterly force 4, aiming for the rugged and impossibly steep mountains emerging straight from the sea that form the Lofoten Islands.
With number 1 jib, staysail and full main we averaged over 8 knots on a close reach arriving in Reine in no time at all. Reine must be a serious contender for the most scenic fishing harbour in the world. Quaint brightly painted wooden cottages on stilts surrounded by impossibly steep mountains reflected perfectly in the crystal clear waters. The scenery here is simply jaw-droppingly beautiful! We really hope the photos do it justice!
After a tasty dinner of chilli con carne cooked by red watch we finish off the day with a hike up to a glacial melt water lake with an amazing view back down to the harbour where Alba Explorer’s mast was dwarfed by the mountains behind. We arrived back at the boat and enjoyed a well-earned hot chocolate while we wrote this blog and then crawled into our bunks exhausted after a hard day of Adventure under Sail with a capital A!
Sunday 20th July
We woke up to another beautiful sunny morning in Reine. After breakfast we all got stuck in to Happy Hour to clean out allotted parts of the boat while Dr. Dave went off to find the local bike rental shop and managed to negotiate a great deal for the hire of 18 bikes. After a short safety brief from the bike man we were off heading south along the coast on the world’s most scenic bike ride to the aptly named village of Å which literally was the end of the road with only a rough path continuing onwards to the southern extremity of the island of Moskenenesoy.
With steep mountains to our right and crystal clear shimmering waters to our left and sea eagles circling overhead we pedalled along, taking in the wonderous views with numerous stops to try and capture the splendour of it all with our cameras. Å is a delightful charming traditional Norwegian fishing village with the wooden houses all built on stilts over the edge of the sea. We were all treated to a special treat of the freshest hot cinnamon buns straight from the oven of the traditional village bakery.
After a couple of hours exploring this charming village we all reluctantly climbed back on our bikes for the cycle back. Alex stopped us all at a bridge where a mountain stream cascaded down the rocks into the sea. He’d spied a small path heading inshore along the stream and insisted we ditch the bikes and explored on foot. A 5 minute walk and slippery stream crossing brought us out to a magical lake whose crystal clear waters reflected the surrounding mountains. On the cycle back to Reine, Ellis went ahead and filmed us all cycling past in an assortment of damp boxer shorts, t shirts and dun hats. We must have looked like the world’s worst Tour de France.
Back at the boat we had hot dogs for lunch and then had a team meeting where we were allocated our specialist jobs for the next 2 days. Each of the 3 watches now has the following roles for each of the 4 watch members: watch leader, bosun, safety officer and navigator. We then congregated with our opposite numbers from the other two watches for a detailed briefing on our respective roles from the sea staff.
With our new found responsibilities we then eagerly set about preparing Alba Explorer for the next leg of our voyage: an 88 mile passage south east to Holandsfjord and the Svartisen Glacier. As we motored slowly out of Reine harbour, Robert provided a very Scottish tribute to this unforgettable place by piping us out of harbour on the bagpipes. The locals were clearly touched and impressed by this as they gave Robert a hearty cheer and round of applause as we left Reine in our wake. After a few hours out at sea we were surrounded by the distant peaks of the Lofotens and the mainland and were treated to the most spectacular of sunsets at 23:46 when the sun finally decided to dip briefly below the horizon.
Monday 21st July by White watch (the lefties)
Our day started, weirdly enough, with a sunset and a sunrise of the midnight sun, on the 0000 – 0300 watch, on passage from Reine. During the early hours we navigated between the mountains and rocks, and an awesomely big cruise ship passed by. Our watch awoke the next morning to find the boat tied to a pontoon, and we emerged from the hatch to one of the most beautiful sights imaginable, a stunning glacier – Svartisen, at the head of Holandsfjord. We did our normal morning routine, then devised a plan to scale the mountain, and come face to face with the icy giant. The walk up was tough and steep, and took 3 hours to complete – being the strong unit that we are, we pulled through by motivating each other.
Once we reached our destination, we had a well-deserved rest and dished out the sandwiches and Tunnock’s caramel wafers (and fruit, but nobody really cares about that)! Whilst digging into our lunch, a huge chunk of the glacier fell off with a resonating crash. We then made our way down to the glacial pool, where we skimmed stones and paddled in the icy water, and posed for photos in front of the glacier and the waterfall. We made our way back down to the boat, returning for about 4 o clock for another cooling paddle in the sea. 6 o‘clock saw us set sail once more – to film some sailing maneuvers whilst the wind lasted, before heading off through more beautiful scenery towards the island of Rødøy…
Tuesday 22nd July 2014
Aye-up from Norway. This morning we woke up to the pleasant aroma of Jamie’s bread cooking in the oven. Than after shaving half of Nick’s beard and then the other half of his head, we headed into the picturesque village for a game of 5 a side footy. The weather was a balmy 25 degrees C and we played with a backdrop of a classic Corvette, an Austin car (from before anyone on the boat was born) and the towering mountains that surrounded the village.
We then made good use of the official showers and the hose pipe on the pier. Washed and refreshed we returned to the boat to find some fellow sailors that were walking their rabbit on a lead. After learning the rabbit was named ‘Retard’ and taking a photo with it, we set off due South. En-route Ellis filmed some impressive flybys from the rib as we sailed through the fantastic fjord. With the wind still refusing to cooperate, we seemed to hoist and drop the sails way too many times. This did however give us a good opportunity to practice leading the sail hoists whilst receiving constructive feedback from our shipmates.
After 9 hours of sailing we arrived at the next scenic harbour (with an unpronounceable name) and were greeted with a breath-taking sunset over the ridge of the mountains and the thick layers of fog below. As we enjoyed a lovely piece of boat-made chocolate cake, the fog thickened to reduce visibility to less than 50 meters. Dr. Dave gave us the first instalment of the RYA first aid course after dinner.
We all had a go at practising putting each other into the recovery position and then each had a go at CPR on the dummy to the rhythm of the B-Gees “Staying Alive”. Tomorrow brings more sailing down the coast which we all look forward to – the people, scenery and price of food continue to amaze us and the wind has yet to show its face for any time.
Thursday 24th July 2014
After sailing through the night, breakfast was eagerly demolished by the crew members of Alba Explorer on arrival at the ferry port of Rorvick. To make matters even better we were then ordered to a two hour siesta – some managed to catch up on needed rest whilst others took advantage of the free wifi in the pig pen. Feeling slightly more awake, we were given an hour of shore leave and got some snacks in the ‘Mega Coop,’ (they probably named that after the mega expensive Norwegian prices).
We then freshened up with ice cold hose showers, which have us the shock needed to wake up for the 36 hour sail we were about to embark on. Alba Explorer sailed out of the marina to the sound of Robert’s bagpipes and to the sound of our junior watchleader’s voices as they worked towards their leadership qualifications and took charge of raising the sails. Raising sails and lowering sails then seemed to take over the first six hours of the 200 mile passage south to Ålesund as we were determined to make the most of the lovely North Easterly breeze.
The Green Watch raised the No. 1 jib, the Spinnaker lowered, No.1 jib lowered, the Cruising Chute raised, the Cruising Chute lowered and the No. 1 raised again all in the space of two hours. A good night’s rest is probably needed, but this is a challenge sail and as they say, “sleep is over rated”!
Friday 26th July 2014
Today we continued to motor across a large expanse of sea as we neared our destination of Ålesund. Suddenly the wind picked up and we hoisted the sails in record time to make the most of our only wind of that day. Over the next hour the sails went up and down as the wind speed varied greatly. At its peak we hit our fastest speed so far of 10.2 knots under the brilliant instruction of Ellis using his Yorkshire accent inspired by our Will. We reached the large town in the early hours of the morning to the sound of boat parties and bustling streets and bars. After mooring up on the harbour wall Jamie showed off his acrobatics and streets dances to excitable onlookers in the streets. We then wearily climbed back into our bunks to get some well-earned shut-eye.
Saturday 27th July 2014
We woke up to find the boat moored literally right in the middle of town. We had an extreme happy hour cleaning the whole boat from bow to stern. After the clean up, the people who didn’t have their competent crew finished that off with a lecture on distress flares and a chat about flag etiquette. The Norwegian flag we have been flying from the mast is called the courtesy ensign which has to be flown while we are in Norwegian waters.
We then had shore leave to explore Ålesund and do some shopping before returning to the boat for lunch with Jamie’s delicious homemade bread. Sadly 3rd Mate Heather had been unwell and on Dr. Dave’s advice she headed home accompanied by Alex who is going to help her get to Bergen airport for a flight back to Aberdeen. Alex is going to re-join us in a couple of days when we get back to Ålesund after exploring the fjords.
After lunch we went to the museum to get to know a bit about Ålesund, its history and people. A fire in 1904 destroyed nearly all the buildings and made 10,000 people homeless. A new town was hastily designed by young architects in the art nouveau style of the time and was built in 3 years with the help of the Kaiser Wilhelm, the German Emperor. We then had a quiz about what we had learned in the museum in which the red watch won (of course).
Whilst we were at the museum Nick and Steve took the boat to a nearby harbour to fill the diesel tanks; the diesel guy wouldn’t take master card and Steve had no money so he took nicks passport as security until we return with the money (Nick said he never liked his passport photo anyhow) We had dinner and then hiked up a nearby mountain to the view point and enjoyed the stunning views of Ålesund and the surrounding mountains and fjords. At the top Jamie D showed us how to hip hop and we even managed to get two French girls to join in. Once we got back to the bottom of the hill we had a water fight in a pond. We got back from our walk and we had a rave party in the galley even though we were meant to be making hot chocolate. Nick got the strobe search light on to really get the party started. We finally had a hot chocolate an hour later and then went to bed looking forward to exploring the beautiful fjords tomorrow.
Sunday 28th July 2014
We had an early start and were all on deck preparing for sea by 06:30 am.
We slipped at 07:30 heading for the Norangesfjord, which we’d heard from locals was the most scenic and unspoilt fjord (the cruise ships seemingly haven’t yet discovered this hidden gem!) The passage to the head of the fjord was just over 50 miles from Alesund and basically we followed the connecting fjords that gradually became narrower and narrower with towering peaks on both sides over 2000 m high. Many still had snow on the tops.
The wind gradually filled in but was very flukey due to the effect of the surrounding mountains. We took the opportunity to do a couple of the worlds most scenic man overboard drills. Ula at the helm did great job of manoeuvring Explorer back to our pretend casualty of a fender tied to a coil of rope. Meanwhile Jamie D had donned the superman outfit (dry suit, climbing harness and buoyancy aid with built in abbs). It was Jamie’s job as bosun to abseil down the side of the boat and recover the casualty back onboard which he did with great style and panache. Mark then put his new first aid training into practice by assessing the casualty. The fender wasn’t breathing so Mark immediately asked for a mayday to be dispatched while he and Lachlan began CPR. Thanks to this amazing bit I teamwork I am pleased to report that the fender made a full recovery and has now returned to active service with his pals in the forepeak.
Dr Dave, then gave us a drinking challenge; to see who could down 2. Cups of Ribena the fastest. Will Proudly announced his win by placing his empty cup upside down on his head. We then realised this was all just an ellaborate rouse on Dr Dave’s part to ensure we were all well hydrated in the hot sunny weather.
After a couple more MOB drills we launched the dinghy so that Ellis and Nick could zoom about filming Explorer in action among the spectacular fjords. Ellis had a huge grin on his face from behind he camera as he captured the most amazing footage. Explorer was simply motor sailing up the middle of the fjord, but it we the stunning backdrop of snow capped mountains, powder blue sky and puffy white clouds all reflected in the deep blue fjords that made this a camera man’s delight. Meanwhile 1st Mate Steve cast his new fishing line off the stern in hope of catching a monster cod or salmon. To everyone’s surprise he did manage to catch a couple of herring.
As explorer neared the upper end of the fjord, Ellis and Sophie were dispatched in the dinghy to go and “sound” the pier with the lead line to ensure enough depth for Alba explorers keel (the pilot book had no details of the depths but did tell us all about the local hotel being a favourite haunt of Royalty and film stars in days gone by).
Once safely moored we explored this perfect harbour.
The pier was just big enough to accommodate Explorer but no other boats.! At one end was a wee traditional chalet with a grass roof containing toilets, showers and a washing machine. At the other end of the pier was a BBQ and another wee grass roofed chalet with a long banqueting table and benches covered in sheep skins headed by an enormous fire place.
100 yards around the bay was a volley ball court and some picnic tables. A sauna and jacuzzi would have been nice but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
Needless to say we made the most of the amazing facilities on offer. Dr Dave and his watch soon had the BBQ sizzling with burgers and Steve’s prized herrings, while Robert sparked up a huge blaze in the fireplace. It made a very pleasant change to be able to spread out and eat dinner around a vast banqueting table rather than Explorers cramped saloon! We all gave individual toasts to everything from the best YLDP ever to absent fiends Heather and Alex and even the wind gods for some wind
to get us back accross the North Sea. After a tidy up we left the chalet nice and clean and then went for some runs in the dinghy learning how to drive he outboard engine which was great fun. We then had an awesome game of volley ball with great banter and frequent pauses while Finn kept bravely retrieving the ball from the fjord.
We then returned to the boat to find a camper van parked on the pier occupied by a friendly Dutch couple who we’re youth workers. They were intrigued to find out all about OYT Scotland and thought it was a fantastic way to do youth work.
We ended another wonderful day with the customary hot chocolates before retiring to our bunks.